Home Contact Us  

India & the World - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5354, 5 September 2017

Doklam Dispute: Part-II

Understanding the Tri-Junction Question
VP Haran
Former Indian Ambassador to Bhutan

Bhutan’s 470 km-long border with China has been mostly agreed upon with the exception of 2 sectors which together measure 764 sq km. In the north, there is disagreement over 495 sq km in the Jakarlung and Pasamlung areas. The remaining 269 sq km is in the western sector. Of this, 89 km km is in the Doklam area and 180 sq km to the east of Chumbi Valley, in the Dramana, Shakhatoe and Sinchulung areas. While Doklam is not inhabited through the year, there are some permanent residents in the rest of the disputed areas in the western sector. Bhutan had a few enclaves in the Kailash and Manasarovar areas, but these were claimed by China when it annexed Tibet. Sometime ago, Chinese maps had shown parts of eastern Bhutan as within China, but it has since given up its outrageous claim.

Doklam is a plateau on the western side, gradually becoming a valley near Amochu on the eastern side. Torsa Nala, starting from the west near Doka la and going south east and draining into Amochu, divides the Doklam area. The Nala is a mini gorge and difficult to cross. China was trying to extend the road from the northern side of the Nala to the southern side when they were physically interrupted by the Indian Army. Bhutan had conveyed its objection to the road project on the ground and through diplomatic channels. If the road reaches the southern side, China can occupy Jampheri ridge, gaining strategically vis-à-vis Bhutan and India. Chinese actions in Doklam have to be seen in the larger context of what could be called their forward policy. Their efforts in the South China Sea (SCS) to aggressively reinforce claims by changing ground realities is another example of their forward policy. Given the current stage of boundary talks with Bhutan, China was clearly attempting to alter the ground situation to strengthen its claim on Doklam.

Border talks between Bhutan and China commenced in 1984. In 1988 and 1998, they agreed to maintain peace in border areas pending a final settlement on the boundary question, and to maintain status quo on the boundary as before March 1959. The countries also agreed not to take unilateral action to change the boundary's status quo. Despite this agreement, China has, on many occasions, tried to change the status quo while Bhutan has scrupulously adhered to its commitments. One blatant Chinese violation was their extension of the road from Yatung to Sinche la (pass) to the south of the pass into the Doklam area, which they completed in 2004-5. The recent Chinese activity in Doklam was to extend that road to the south of Torsa Nala, to Jampheri ridge.

The 24th round of border talks was held in China in August 2016. A joint field survey was carried out in the disputed western sector, including Doklam, in the summer of 2015. Differences in the disputed sectors remain. China’s attempts to change the status quo through aggressive actions are not contributing to an early and amicable resolution of differences. On 28 August, China said that it continues to exercise sovereignty, overlooking the fact that Doklam belongs to Bhutan or at best can be called an area where China disputes Bhutan’s sovereignty. Till the early 1960s, China was mostly present beyond Sinche la, that is on the Tibetan side of the ridge to the north of Doklam. In 1965, the year in which Indian forces got the better of the Chinese forces in Nathu la, China lodged its protest against alleged violations in Doklam by Indian forces. In 1966, Bhutan, through India, sent a long list of incidents of Chinese herders, people and soldiers entering Bhutanese territory of Doklam. These exchanges indicate that Doklam is at best a disputed area and not Chinese territory. A further joint field survey was carried out in this area only because it is disputed. China's claim of sovereignty over Doklam is thus misplaced.

During the standoff, China questioned India’s locus standi on this issue. In doing so, China ignored the 2012 agreement between the Special Representatives that tri-junctions would be decided in consultation with the third country concerned, and to maintain status quo until then. Doklam is a disputed area as the tri-junction has not been agreed upon, and China was seeking to alter the status quo by extending the road. China said that it had informed India in May and June 2017 about the road project out of goodwill. It is silent on whether it informed Bhutan, to whom Doklam belongs. If India has no locus standi would China have shown this goodwill? If indeed they wanted to show goodwill they should have emulated Pandit Nehru, who unilaterally gave up the Indian enclave of Minsar near Mansarovar in the 1950s.

The standoff is over and both sides are understandably claiming victory. The Bhutanese and Indian objective was to halt the road extension and restore status quo ante. This has been achieved. The status quo will be hopefully be maintained till the tri-junction is agreed upon and the boundary issue is resolved. China is unlikely to take this setback easily and may pose challenges in places where the People's Liberation Army (PLA) holds advantage. The Governments of Bhutan and India should be congratulated for handling the issue maturely, despite intemperate provocations. The focus should now be on finalising and demarcating the boundary in this sector so as to avoid the future recurrence of such standoffs.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
VP Haran,
"A Brief History," 5 September 2017

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
A Brief History

India-Bhutan: Furthering Common Interests

Withdrawing the MFN Status to Pakistan: Legality and Implications

India-Syria Linkages: Yesterday and Today

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.